by: Jason Krause
Hypnosis is a word charged with mysterious and almost magical qualities in the modern psyche. The most effective way to demystify something is to trace it back to its origins. And hypnosis is by no means a modern concept. In fact, the roots of hypnosis and trance-like states can be traced back to the ancient texts of Egypt and china. Back then, it fell in the realm of magic, the occult, and gods. It was not until the late 18th century when Viennese physician, Franz Anton Mesmer, brought trance into the modern era with the understanding of altered states. If you have ever felt charmed, transfixed, or spellbound, then you have been acquainted with Mesmer’s namesake . . . you have been mesmerized.
In the mid-19th century, James Braid, a Scottish surgeon, first coined the term hypnosis. He was initially drawn to the local performance of a mesmerist, intending to disprove the act as a delusion or hoax. But the further he studied mesmerism, the more he became fascinated with trance and began experimenting himself. Braid initially interpreted the altered state of the subjects as that of sleep, and so he described it as hypnosis. As his understanding grew, however, he became aware that this was not an accurate depiction of trance-like states. Braid later tried to change the term, but hypnosis had already become a permanent fixture in society by that point.
The reason Braid attempted to diverge from his initial term hypnosis, can be found in the origin of the word. It is based on the word hypnos, meaning “sleep” in Greek. Hypnos is also the name of a deity in Greek mythology who was the personification of sleep, whose twin brother was Thanatos, personification of death.Braid knew that while the trance of hypnosis may resemble sleep to an observer, the reality is quite the opposite. Trance is a relaxed state which allows for heightened awareness without the distraction of peripheral background noise of competing stimuli in the outer environment or competing thoughts within the inner. Braid’s preference was for the term monoideism, which describes a prolonged absorption or focus of one single idea.
That hypnosis is nothing more than a state of sleep, is one misconception which persists today. Other misconceptions equate hypnosis with brainwashing and mind-control, that people do not remember what occurs while hypnotized, or that the hypnotized person somehow surrenders their will to the hypnotist or will engage in behaviors contrary to their own ethics or morals (aka being turned into hypnotized assassins). While Hollywood or the CIA is not new to muddying the waters of understanding, hypnosis is not as fantastical as many might imagine. Trance is as ancient as history. Just stare into the flickering flame of a burning candle to get a taste of trance. With our modern understanding of hypnosis, and the application of its use by trained professionals, hypnosis can be applied to therapy as a proven and effective tool to heal.